When late night TV was really something to see.
The Tonight Show with Jay Leno is a gigantic piece of crap.
There, I've said it.
I've watched it for some time now, largely due to the fact that there's nothing else on at 3am (when it repeats from its 11:30pm slot), and it is just terrible. I've had the chance to really reflect on why it's so bad, and while I could easily single out the horrendously repetitive band, the toothless jokes, the lame sidekicks, the endless gratuitous pandering to the audience, and the single worst comedy skits ever in the history of television, these are not the main reason why it's so bad.
That reason is a remarkably simple one: there are NO surprises on the show ever. Jay Leno clearly knows all the questions and all the answers in advance, and all spontaneity is crushed by this rush to consolidate everything into an easily digestible pablum. Even the surprises on the show are planned within an inch of their lives and there is absolutely no hiding it. It's honestly the closest thing we have to television programming for androids. It makes me insane. I yell at the tv screen constantly, demanding that the show try harder, but to no avail.
Maybe it's because I have a decent working knowledge of what late night TV used to be, and how dangerous it could be, that it makes me so disdainful of what it's become.
Tonight I was over at the lovely blog Jazz And Conversation, where it was reminiscing about the first television appearance of the Miles Davis Quintet. The year was 1955, and the band made its debut on The Tonight Show, then hosted by Steve Allen. Allen, an accomplished musician on his own, seems very nervous about the band's appearance, constantly referencing how they might put off "fans of Guy Lombardo" and also bringing up Miles winning the Down Beat poll that year for best trumpeter.
But honestly, Allen had nothing to worry about. After all, this is the quintet's greatest lineup with John Coltrane on tenor saxophone, Red Garland on piano, Philly Joe Jones on drums and Paul Chambers on bass. The band rips through "Max Is Making Wax" and then gets all sweet on "It Never Entered My Mind". It's a great performance, filled with risk, for both the band and the show.
Take a listen to it here!
But, as strange as Miles must have seemed to non-jazz fans in 1955, they surely cannot compare to the shock that audiences must have felt the year before as Perez Prado, the king of mambo, appeared for the first time on "The Spike Jones Show".
As if it wasn't enough for audiences to be overpowered with the band's primal latin rhythms and Prado's inability to speak any English, his band engages a battle of the bands with Spike Jones's orchestra, in what is surely one of the strangest musical moments in television. Plus, Billy Barty appears from nowhere and gets in a fight with a tall guy in a sombrero!
An incredible event, take a look below! They just don't do it like this anymore.